April 5, 2013

Offshore-Leaks reveals indirect links to Mugabe

The massive trove of secret documents exposing the world of offshore finance favoured by the rich also links Robert Mugabe, State President of Zimbabwe, to some of the leading figures in business and finance around the world using offshore tax havens. The findings have been made public by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (http://www.icij.org/offshore).

The leak goes to the heart of a vast offshore financial system based entirely on secrecy that has never been breached at this scale. Weighing in at 260 gigabytes, the data is 160 times larger than the State Department cables that WikiLeaks published in 2010.

The files detail how the global elite uses offshore accounts to buy property and priceless artworks, and sheds light on two of the biggest offshore firms that facilitate these transactions, TrustNet in Singapore and Commonwealth Trust Limited in the British Virgin Islands.

The data which have not yet been fully explored name, among many others, several key politicians and business people from the United States, government officials in Venezuela, Russia, Azerbaijan, Mongolia, Canada, and other countries, including – indirectly – Zimbabwean Robert Mugabe.

Mugabe is implicated by way of his involvement with "Billy" Rautenbach a businessman with close links to the regime in Harare. The United States blacklisted him saying he has helped organized huge mining projects in Zimbabwe that “benefit a small number of corrupt senior officials.” Rautenbach fled South Africa in 1999 after being accused of fraud. The charges lodged personally against him were dismissed, but a South African company he controlled pleaded guilty to criminal charges and paid a fine of roughly $4 million.

Rautenbach denies U.S. authorities’ allegations, contending that they made “significant factual and legal errors” in their blacklisting decision, his attorney, Ian Small Smith, said. Smith said Rautenbach’s BVI company was set up as “special purpose vehicle for investment in Moscow” and that it complied with all disclosure regulations. The company is no longer active.

Another link is provided by Nalinee Taveesin, a former government minister in Thailand who is currently the country’s international trade representative. Taveesin is the former wife of ousted Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra and a sitting senator in Bangkok. Her assets in the United States are frozen because of her alleged links to Zimbabwean dictator Robert Mugabe.

In 2008, she was designated as one of four “Mugabe regime cronies” by the U.S. Department of the Treasury's Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC). The OFAC’s 2008 statement was strongly worded, particularly in reference to Taveesin. “Ironically,” it said, “Nalinee Taveesin has participated in a number of initiatives on corruption and growth challenges in Africa and Southeast Asia while secretly supporting the kleptocratic practices of one of Africa's most corrupt regimes.”

The OFAC statement became a point of controversy in Thailand when Taveesin was appointed minister for the prime minister’s office in January 2012. She strongly denied the allegations, saying that her relationship with the Mugabes is “strictly social” and that she is a victim of guilt by association. (International Consortium of Investigative Journalism)

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